The San Diego Symphony came into form at their concert on Friday, October 12. Joyce Yang was back at the keyboard not just on the 12th but also earlier in the week at The Scripps Research Institute on Tuesday, October 9.
The Scripps concert was thoughtful and sincere. The program started with Clara Schumann’s Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann followed by Beethoven’s Ghost Trio and then Robert Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E flat major.
I liked the idea of a “ghost” standing between Clara and Robert. Robert spent the final two years of his life in an asylum which didn’t allow his wife, Clara, to see him for fear that a visit from her would worsen his condition. Johannes Brahms visited Robert a few times but kept Clara in the dark regarding the severity of Robert’s condition. The way I looked at the program is that the ghost between Clara and Robert was his mental breakdown.
In reality the ghost was Beethoven. Joyce Yang opened the concert by playing Clara Schumann’s variations, composed for her beloved Robert’s 42nd birthday, with all the dedication and tenderness of a life-long partner..
A violinist and cellist from the San Diego Symphony joined Ms. Yang for the Beethoven trio. It appeared to me that the two symphony musicians weren’t that interested in the performance. I’m not saying they weren’t interested in fact but that their appearance came off as if they were uninterested.
The symphony musicians who joined Ms. Yang for the Robert Schumann piano quartet appeared engaged and enthusiastic in their performance. It was a fine performance of what might be the quintessential piece of romantic era chamber music.
The Friday, October 12, concert at Symphony Hall was the real deal. Wow! After what I would call a bumpy start to the season on the previous weekend, Edo de Waart and the San Diegans sparkled in this concert of Mason Bates, Rachmaninoff, and Mozart.
Mason Bates’s composition Garages of the Valley was cinematic in its conception. That is to say that it came through as a series of episodes. I found it to have a sense of beauty which is absolutely crucial to the creation of any piece of art.
Let’s skip to “the good part” of Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini. When variation No. 18 made its appearance, it came to us like a returning faith. At that moment 1800 people released their shoulders at the same time and relaxed into something we can all believe in, the beauty of music. Rachmaninoff melted us into our seats.
Joyce Yang’s performance of No. 18 was more tender than ecstatic. Her playing sought to move us rather than impress us. It was the type of playing that brings a tear to the eye for no other reason than the beauty which is pouring through the musicians.
The final piece of music was Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in g minor. Edo de Waart kept the orchestra moving ahead and all the Mozartian phrasing was present and accounted for. I will say that in the final movement the tempo became somewhat stagnant compared to the momentum of the previous three.
I have it, from a credible source, that at Sunday’s concert the Mozart was sheer perfection.